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The collected opinions of an august and aristocratic personage who, despite her body having succumbed to the ravages of time, yet retains the keen intellect, mordant wit and utter want of tact for which she was so universally lauded in her younger days. Being of a generation unequal to the mysterious demands of the computing device, Lady Bracknell relies on the good offices of her Editor for assistance with the technological aspects of her journal.

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Location: Bracknell Towers

Sunday, April 30, 2006

The BADD entry

As she previously indicated that she would do, Lady Bracknell has permitted her editor to compose a blog entry to mark Blogging Against Disablism day. And here it is.

What is disablism?

The word “disablism” was coined by the DEMOS think tank when its members were commissioned to produce a report about disability discrimination by the charity Scope in preparation for the launch of its “Time to Get Equal” campaign on October 1st 2004. To the best of my knowledge, the word didn’t exist prior to the publication of that report. (The behaviour did, of course. It just didn’t have a one-word title.)

The report defines disablism as follows:

Is that really what it is?

Personally, I consider the DEMOS definition to be phrased a little strongly. Whilst it would be true to say that “treating disabled people in an unequal manner” would be covered by it, I believe that the majority of discriminatory behaviour towards disabled people in the Western world in this day and age is unconscious. Whereas the DEMOS definition rather implies that only behaviour predicated on conscious (and possibly malicious) intent counts.

Take the example of non-disabled people parking in blue-badge bays. Are they doing so because they believe on a conscious level that disabled people are inferior to them? Or are they doing so because they are in a hurry and they are thoughtless and selfish? The effect on the disabled driver who has to turn round and go home is the same, of course, but the motivation behind the action is considerably less sinister.

The DEMOS definition, to me, carries an implication of hate crime. And, although hate crimes towards disabled people undoubtedly do take place, most non-disabled people would be appalled if their behaviour towards us was called into question on these terms. Generally speaking, there isn’t anything like the same degree of conscious hatred towards disabled people as exists in some circles towards racial or religious minority groups or homosexuals. There aren’t, for example, entire political groups specifically set up to foster intolerance towards us. Possibly because we really are too diverse a group to engender that level of dislike, or possibly because we don’t represent the same level of threat. After all, we’re unlikely either to invade a foreign country or persuade impressionable children to adopt our “lifestyle”.

The vast majority of non-disabled people don’t hate us. But they don’t treat us as equals either. And therein lies the rub. Unconscious prejudice can be harder to tackle than its conscious counterpart because most of its perpetrators don’t recognise that there’s anything wrong in their attitudes or behaviour.

“I’m not disablist, but…”

… is a phrase no-one uses. Yet one regularly hears its counterpart, “I’m not racist/anti-Semitic/homophobic, but…”. Now, of course, anyone who says that is actually saying, “I am deeply prejudiced against a particular minority group, but I recognise that there are a lot of people who would strongly object to my views, so I’m going to pretend that I’m not.”

Nobody feels the need to say, “I’m not disablist, but…” because disablism is not generally held to be a societal evil in the same way that racial hatred and homophobia are. Disability discrimination barely causes a blip on most people’s radar. But it’s about time it did.

"Now, don’t you bother your pretty little head about it… "

Because a considerable proportion of disablist behaviour stems from misplaced motives of pity and kindliness, there are parallels between disablism and the way women were treated prior to the birth of the feminist movement. In the same way that the majority of men believed they were doing “the fairer sex” a favour by protecting them from the perils outside their own front doors, many non-disabled people mistakenly assume that we need to be protected from the big, bad world and are therefore perplexed and insulted if we throw this “kindness” back in their faces. (I’m not saying that either sexism or disablism is excusable on these grounds: I’m merely pointing out that assuming that all non-disabled people rub their hands together with glee every time we’re excluded from something is neither an accurate nor a helpful starting point in the fight to end disablism.)

Again, this kind of “benevolent discrimination” is in some ways more difficult to tackle than that which derives from active hatred. Hate crimes are illegal in this country: kindness crimes are not. (And I am not, of course, saying that kindness is a bad thing per se. Just that, when misdirected and unnecessary, it can blight the lives of those on the receiving end. Also, when applied in an indiscriminate manner towards a particular group of people, it’s indicative of a basic, underlying belief that members of the group in question are in some way intrinsically unfortunate. For which, read, “unequal”.)

And why, for heaven’s sake, are there so many people who labour under the delusion that we need someone to speak for us in equality debates? Some of the most articulate people I know are disabled. And, whilst it’s certainly both possible and desirable for people who don’t belong to a particular minority to speak out in support of equality for that group, they can’t speak from a position of knowledge. They can’t know what it’s like to live as part of that minority.

One major difference between disabled people and people from other minority groups is that many – if not most - of us require some level of “care”. This may be nothing more arduous than an annual visit to the doctor, or it may take the form of full time personal assistance. In either case, there is a whole raft of people with some level of professional stake in our lives. And the caring professions, whilst admittedly attracting many sterling individuals who have no difficulty in seeing “the person rather than the impairment”, are also a magnet for those who get the wrong kind of kick out of “helping those less fortunate than themselves”. The fact that someone needs assistance with toileting has no bearing on whether they can make their own decisions about how to live their life. The role of personal assistants is (rather unsurprisingly) to assist. Not to assume that they are qualified to speak on behalf of the disabled person for whom they are working.

Clearly, there are some disabled people who, either by the nature of their impairments, or by virtue of their personality, are not – or are not always – equal to the task of fighting their own corner. But the same could be said of any minority group. And it doesn’t follow that people who are not from the group in question are the best choice to act as their advocates.

It could be you

Yes, some are born disabled; some achieve disability, and some have disability thrust upon them. Nobody starts the day white and ends it black. Nobody starts the day as a man and ends it as a woman (well, not without planned gender-realignment surgery: it’s not going to be something that comes as a surprise). Nobody starts the day straight and ends it gay.

But every day people wake up without impairments and accidentally manage to acquire one before that day is over. Disability is no respecter of class or wealth.

That’s why we can amuse ourselves by describing people who don’t have impairments as “not yet disabled” – if there’s an equivalent term used by any other minority group to define the majority, I have yet to hear it.

And the fear of becoming disabled is another differentiating factor between disablism and e.g. racism. We’re everyone’s worst nightmare. Nobody wants to be reminded of the frailty of their own flesh or their own cognitive processes. So it’s much easier either to pretend that we don’t exist at all, or to pretend that “there’s nothing really wrong” with us. This, I have come to realise, is why people say, “Oh, but I don’t think of you as being disabled”, and expect us to take it as a compliment. It must be terrible to be in our position, surely? We couldn’t possibly be happy living with these tragic impairments? Well, I’d be the first to confirm that acquiring an impairment isn’t a walk in the park. But it’s not the end of the world, either. And it’s not something to be ashamed of.

Having said that, there’s something which needs to be borne in mind about disability equality. Even if discrimination against minorities is totally eradicated, we will still have to cope with the daily impact of our impairments. Our lives would be easier in many ways than they are now, but we’ll still have to live with our physical or mental functional loss or difference. That’s not going anywhere.

Disablism at work

It’s important to distinguish between being discriminated against at work because you’re disabled and the limitations imposed on you by your own impairment/s.

There are a lot of jobs I can’t do. That’s true of everyone. But there are a great many more jobs I can’t do since I acquired my impairments than there were before.

I’m in constant pain and my stamina is extremely limited. I can’t change that and my employer can’t change that. On the other hand, neither did my academic qualifications and professional skills disappear overnight when I injured my back.

I was once at a disability network meeting in which a senior member of staff (himself disabled) attempted to inject a little backbone (ha, ha) into the proceedings by telling those present that there’s nothing you can’t do if only you put your mind to it. Now, I appreciate that his motivation for saying this was a good one. He wanted disabled staff to have ambition for promotion and professional advancement. Unfortunately, though, what he said is nonsense. Can a blind person see if they really put their mind to it? Can a deaf person hear if only they try hard enough? There are a lot of things I physically cannot do and no amount of positive mental attitude is going to change that.

Tell a disabled member of staff that there’s nothing they can’t do if they just put their mind to it and you’re effectively both burdening them with the responsibility for “overcoming” their impairments and denying the existence of discrimination. Nice one. Frankly, it would have been a damned sight more useful if that same senior member of staff had spent his time telling his non-disabled junior colleagues about their obligations under the DDA. Discrimination doesn’t go away just because someone pretends it isn’t there.

To illustrate this point, I know someone with dyslexia who was told by a new manager that, if he couldn’t learn to write clearly within six months, he would find himself top of the list in the very next round of job cuts. It’s the same thought process. His manager mistakenly believes that he can write properly if he really tries. But the problem here is not one of a failure in will power. (And it’s not one of a lack of suitability for the job either. This man had been doing the same job perfectly well for years. The only thing that changed was that he got a new manager.) The fault lies squarely with that manager, and not with the member of staff. The manager is breaking the law by

a) refusing to make reasonable adjustment; and
b) treating an employee less favourably for reasons directly relating to his impairment.

The vast majority of workplaces are very badly in need of having their attitude towards disabled job applicants (external and internal) radically overhauled. Disabled people are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as their non-disabled peers . And that’s not a standard figure across the board – it varies according to type of impairment. If you have – or you have had – mental health problems, your chances of success when you apply for a job are lower than those of someone with a prison record.

What we don’t have figures for – because it doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone to undertake the necessary research – is the proportion of disabled people in employment who don’t rise to the level for which their skills make them suitable. Such knowledge as I have of the public sector would indicate that this is a major problem. But, while Google searches indicate any amount of research into the problems of getting disabled people into work, I have yet to find anything of note about the fact that, once we’re in work, we get mysteriously overlooked for promotion. Show me a senior member of staff who is disabled, and 99 times out of 100 I’ll show you someone who rose to that position before he or she became disabled.

A word about “reasonable adjustments”

The DDA obligation on employers to make reasonable adjustments is not about paying a disabled person a decent wage for the privilege of sitting around all day and accomplishing nothing. It’s about appointing the best person for the job and then if

• the best person for the job happens to be disabled; and
• there are aspects of that job which that person finds difficult for reasons directly relating to his or her impairment,

making adjustments to minimise those difficulties. Those adjustments must be made. It’s the law. If they aren’t, the employer can find himself on the wrong end of an employment tribunal, as happened here.

However, equality in employment is about being paid for a job you can do, not for one you just happen to like the look of. Eradicating disability discrimination in the workplace doesn’t equate to every disabled person having an automatic right to a fascinating and fulfilling job. Non-disabled people don’t have that right, so why should we?

Equality is about having the fact that you have impairments taken out of the equation. If, once your employers have made the adjustments you need, you are shiftless and incompetent, then you must expect to be treated in exactly the same way as any other shiftless, incompetent member of staff. Don’t come running to me crying discrimination if you get found out.

Equality – be careful what you ask for

Whilst I will categorically refute any belief-system which holds that disabled people are inherently inferior to their non-disabled peers, I am equally unhappy with any suggestion that we are inherently superior. I don’t, for example, consider the concept of “Crip World Domination” to be helpful. Replacing (or even joking about replacing) one hierarchy with another has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with perpetuating the divisions in society (albeit by turning the current ones on their heads).

Achieving equality isn’t about being able to get away with metaphorical murder just because you happen to belong to a specific minority group.

In the utopian world of true equality, no-one will be judged on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or degree of impairment. And quite right too. Because these are the things we cannot change about ourselves. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that no-one will be judged, period. Removing the immutable characteristics from the equation will result in people being judged on who they are.

There are bad apples in every barrel, and one of the joys (to my mind) in achieving true equality will be that the bad apples are longer be able to hide behind accusations of discrimination.

To put it another way, I am personally acquainted with a fair few disabled people who are so unremittingly ghastly that, if I had the necessary turn of speed, I would cross the street to avoid them. That doesn’t, of course, prevent me from fighting for an end to disablism, because every disabled person deserves to be treated as a person, not to be automatically perceived as a useless and expensive drain on resources.

But I deplore any attempt to “play the crip card”. It’s manipulative and it’s inexcusable. By all means fight for the same rights as non-disabled people. Just remember that you’ll have to be prepared to take on the same responsibilities, too. And, if you’re an idle, shiftless, untrustworthy, incompetent, sententious, bombastic, vacuous, supercilious, dishonest waste of space who just happens to use a wheelchair/walking stick/guide dog/hearing aid/lithium etc, then be prepared for people to stop making allowances for the wheelchair/walking stick/guide dog/hearing aid/lithium etc and start realising what a nasty piece of work you really are.

To conclude

I want to live in a world in which disabled people’s rights to education, employment, access, social inclusion, family life, self-determination, independence and health-care are not predicated on their level of impairment. In short, I want to live in a world where people with impairments aren’t disabled. The fact that this isn’t going to happen in my life-time – if at all – won’t stop me continuing to fight for it.

A trades union colleague of mine once said to me, “You’ve got to have a good sense of humour to negotiate in the equality arena”. He wasn’t kidding. Start actively fighting for an end to disablism, and you will be knocked back more times than you are successful. You will have to fight the same battles over and over again. Your efforts will often be unappreciated not only by those with whom you are trying to negotiate, but even by some of those on whose behalf you are campaigning. But when it works – on those rare occasions when it actually works – I promise you that you’ll remember why you started doing it in the first place.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Stop Press: Celebrity BADD Endorsement

It would appear that Lady Bracknell's editor has been less than entirely frank with her employer about her extra-mural interests. Ordinarily, such secretive behaviour would very probably have led to a reconsideration of the editor's contract of employment at Bracknell Towers. However, Lady Bracknell is not inclined to take any action which might be detrimental to the success of Blogging Against Disablism Day (BADD), and has therefore decided to show lenience on this occasion.

Unbeknownst to her employer, the editor has been engaging in electronic correspondence with Mr Richard Herring. (Lady Bracknell, who prides herself on her ability to keep abreast of modern trends in theatrical entertainment, has included a link to Mr Herring's website from this blog from its inception.)

The editor, reasoning that Mr Herring has long demonstrated a laudable degree of support to disability equality issues, and is known for being rather a decent sort of chap all round, drew his attention to BADD and asked whether he would consider writing something in support. Never one to shy from a challenge, Mr Herring has provided his own inimitable spin on BADD in the 28th April entry to his never-less-than-entertaining Warming Up pages. For which efforts he has earned the eternal gratitude of at least one elderly and enfeebled aristocrat.

Below is a photograph of the editor and Mr Herring taken about ten years ago at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. How young they both look! There is, however, a somewhat eerie degree of physical similarity between the two, which causes Lady Bracknell to ponder on the question of whether her editor has yet to be entirely open and frank about her life prior to her current employment.

Mood Sticks

Earlier this week, an elegant gentleman of Lady Bracknell's acquaintance suggested (with no great seriousness, it must be admitted) that she might choose to match the colour of her handsome walking stick to her mood, the better for him to judge his opening conversational gambit with care.

This suggestion is not practical given that her ladyship's choice of stick colour is generally dictated by the availability of laundered and ironed garments of a complementary hue. Nevertheless, it is an amusing concept. Lady Bracknell has therefore devoted some thought to the symbolism of each colour should she ever have such a superfluity of garment choices at her fingertips that the scheme could be put into practice. Her conclusions are as follows.

Red: red being a universal indicator of danger or peril, this stick would be carried on days when Lady Bracknell's dander is up.

Blue: a cool colour suitable to those days on which Lady Bracknell is intent on preserving an icy demeanour.

Green: generally associated with envy and jealousy. To be carried on those (rare) days on which Lady Bracknell has been wearied by her physical enfeeblement to such an extent that she finds herself envying persons who do not labour under similar restrictions.

Purple: may be either palatinate or imperial. Could therefore be carried either as an extremely subtle reference to her ladyship's alma mater, or as an indicator of her noble birth.

Yellow: denotes cowardice. To be carried on days when Lady Bracknell has had a close encounter with an arachnid of more than ordinarily fearsome aspect.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Ornithology for beginners

This morning, following yet another visit to her doctor's surgery, Lady Bracknell bent her steps towards a convenient omnibus stop the better to arrive in time for the rest of the day's appointments.

Whilst awaiting the arrival of the appropriate omnibus, and endeavouring to make civil conversation with a small, elderly gentleman whose diction left something to be desired, Lady Bracknell's gaze was caught by a large, black bird perched in the upper branches of the tree which graced the small cemetery opposite.

Spring now being considerably advanced, the outline of the bird was somewhat obscured by new foliage. Nevertheless, its body approximated in size to that of a crow, although with a much longer tail. In fact, it resembled nothing so much as a peacock rendered in sooty black.

Fascinated by the prospect of a glimpse of a rare visitor to these shores, Lady Bracknell was on the verge of taking a few halting steps down the pavement in the hopes of thereby attaining a less obstructed view when she suddenly realised that the bird in question was, in fact, a bin bag.

Life is full of disappointments.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lady Bracknell's fame spreads

Regular readers of Lady Bracknell's humble scribblings may recall that last December her blog was the fourth hit under the search term, "Lady Bracknell" on Google. She is pleased (although probably very much less pleased than are any serious Wildean scholars) to report that her blog now takes pride of place in the same search.

Further scrutiny of the results returned by the mighty Google search engine reveals some gratifying new Bracknell footprints in cyberspace.

  • Moleskinerie have produced a rather charming juxtaposition of extracts from this and the redoubtable Mr Chaucer's blog, complete with illustrations; and
  • Eheu fugaces .. labuntur anni have done Lady Bracknell the enormous (and completely unjustified) honour of listing her blog under the title, English on-line journalists.

Now, Google is all well and good. But its self-indulgent delights pale in comparison with the simple pleasures Lady Bracknell has enjoyed since, less than 48 hours ago, she followed the delightful Becca's advice and instructed the editor to install a site meter. (Lady Bracknell was thrown back on the expedient of humming quite loudly during the installation process in order to block out the noise of the editor's swearing. Despite her best efforts, however, she is sure she heard the editor mutter something to the effect that nowhere on her curriculum vitae did she claim to have any skills in ****ing HTML coding.)

The results shown on the site meter are so wholly absorbing that there is some risk that Lady Bracknell may discontinue blogging altogether in order to have more spare time to analyse them. She is particularly fond of the "By World Map" page, in which the map is marked with little coloured pins to indicate the locations of her readers.

The search terms by means of which readers have stumbled upon her perorations are also a source of fascination. Although Lady Bracknell cannot help but suspect that her blog must have been a crashing disappointment to whichever individual searched under the term, "ladyship whipping"....

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Getting legless with Trinny and Susannah

Whilst idly browsing Teletext screens on Channel 4, Lady Bracknell was astonished to find the following announcement:

"What Not To Go Through
Fashion presenters Trinny and Susannah are making a programme for ITV about couples that have been through a life-changing experience.

They are particularly interested in subjects who have experienced limb loss, with the aim of helping others to deal with these issues."

(There is a telephone number and an email address for those interested in taking part, but Lady Bracknell will not repeat them here. They can be found on page 176 of the Teletext service.)

Lady Bracknell, who has only ever seen Trinny and Susannah bullying some hapless soul into throwing 95% of his or her wardrobe into a handy skip, confesses that she is somewhat surprised to learn of their new-found interest in disability issues. She cannot help but suspect that the greater part of the programme will be devoted not to the fact that one's partner considers one's loss of limb to be neither here nor there, but to being told how to dress in such a way that one's stump/prosthesis is disguised from view.

In any event, Lady Bracknell would personally rather clothe herself in garments fashioned from used coal sacks than submit to having her capacious bosom publicly manhandled by either Trinny or Susannah.

Friday, April 21, 2006

One in Seven

Being a few words written by Lady Bracknell's editor with the intention of crystallising in her readers' minds the real significance of Blogging Against Disablism Day.

We exist in every culture; every race; every class; every creed; every nationality; every political party. We have arrived here as a result of accident, injury, illness or simple genetic glitch. We are adults and we are children; we are men and we are women; we are straight, we are gay, and we are bisexual. We are too frail to leave the house and we are strong enough to yomp across continents. We are desperately ill and we are at the peak of physical fitness. We die young and we live to a ripe old age. We are accepted in our communities and we are locked away in institutions. We have been this way since birth, and we have been this way since yesterday. We are the premature baby and the great-grandparent. We are the criminal underclass and the pillar of society. We are the warmonger and the pacifist. We are the teacher and the student.

We are, without a shadow of a doubt, the most diverse minority group on the planet. We are everywhere you look, and yet you do not see us. We are one in seven*.

We have two things - and only two things - in common with one another:

1. we have some degree of physical or mental functional loss or difference (we have impairments); and
2. we are excluded from full participation in society because we have impairments (we are disabled).

We are not brave. We are not special. We are not tragic. We are not heroic. We are not “an inspiration”. We are not the Bogey Man. We are not objects of pity. And we are not the living embodiment of our impairments. You can’t predict what any one of us is going to be like just because you know someone else with the same impairment. We are people. Like you. We have the same rights that you have. We do the same things you do, but we do some of them differently.

You could join us at any time. Just by taking your eyes off the road for a split second. That’s all it takes. If that happens, will you be special? Will you be brave? Will you just sit there quietly and accept it if no-one will employ you? If you’re prevented from going where you want to go and seeing who you want to see? If no-one takes what you say seriously any more?

No? Then why should we?

We are one in seven and we will remain silent no longer. Our impairments can’t be changed, but our exclusion can. On May 1st our voices will ring out in cyberspace as never before. We’ve got a lot to say, and we want you to read it. Visit
Diary of a Goldfish on May 1st for a list of links to everyone who has made a commitment to speak out on Blogging Against Disablism day.

Post Script added June 07: links to the BADD 2007 entries are available here.

* One in seven of the UK population is disabled.

In the spirit of Blogging Against Disablism Day, word verification has been turned off, and comment moderation turned on. This may be a temporary state of affairs. It will depend on just how much blog spam I receive as a result.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found...

Those familiar with Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan's light operetta, "The Mikado", will no doubt recall that the character of Ko-Ko is surprised to find himself suddenly elevated to the rank of Lord High Executioner of the town of Titipu. In a demonstration of his readiness to face the less pleasant aspects of his new occupation, Ko-Ko regales the town's citizens with a list of the people he would most like to decapitate. He says, "If I should ever be called upon to act professionally, I am happy to think that there will be no difficulty in finding plenty of people whose loss will be a distinct gain to society at large."

In what she hopes will buoy the current mood of excited anticipation surrounding Blogging Against Disablism day, Lady Bracknell has taken the liberty of subtly changing the lyrics of Ko-Ko's song to reflect a more anti-disablist theme than that with which the original was imbued:

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list--I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed--who never would be missed!
There’s the non-disabled people who suppose you’d like to be
Tucked up in bed by half past nine with a nice cup of tea
And refuse to recognize that you have got the right to make
Decisions of you own about the treatment that you’ll take
And that you might choose to stay out late, then stagger homewards pissed
They'd none of 'em be missed--they'd none of 'em be missed!

CHORUS. She's got 'em on the list -- she's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed--they'll none of
'em be missed.

There's the gent upon the omnibus who sees you use a cane,
But who won’t give up his seat--I've got him on the list!
And the staff who break your wheelchair when you’re travelling by plane,
They never would be missed--they never would be missed!
Then the idiots who walk round town while texting on their phone,
Who despise you when you try to grab some pavement of your own;
And the person in a hurry stuck behind you on the street
Who then rushes past so close that you trip over your own feet
And who wouldn’t like it if his nose connected with your fist
I don't think he'd be missed--I'm sure he'd not he missed!

CHORUS. She's got him on the list--she's got him on the list;
And I don't think he'll be missed--I'm sure
he'll not be missed!

Readers should note that the original version of the song contains three verses. Lady Bracknell's own creative muse deserted her after a mere two. There will, therefore, be a small prize (probably of a virtual nature) for the reader who pens the most humorous third verse and brings it to Lady Bracknell's attention via the useful comments facility. (Any reader unfamiliar with the music to which the song is set may listen to a sample of it here.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hair today, gone tomorrow...

Lady Bracknell is not ashamed to admit that she had a tear in her rheumy old eye this afternoon when she bid farewell to her hairdresser, V. And that it had nothing whatsoever to do with the standard of the haircut she had just received.

No, V is off to pastures new. County Kildare, in fact. Now, not only is County Kildare so far away that the cost of travelling thither for a haircut every six weeks would be prohibitive, but V is actually giving up hairdressing.

Gentlemen readers are unlikely to appreciate the full gravity of this situation, but Lady Bracknell is confident that the majority of her lady readers will empathise with her plight.

Prior to a friend's recommendation to patronise V's establishment, Lady Bracknell had always approached hairdressers' salons with approximately the same degree of enthusiasm as she does dentists' surgeries. Lady Bracknell's "crowning glory" is nothing of the sort. It is fine and it is as straight as a ruler. Her ladyship's esteemed father was once heard to comment that, having been "blessed" with the same hair himself, he was only too glad to go bald. Being so fine, it must needs be cut with great precision if it is to present an even semi-acceptable appearance.

But its recalcitrant behaviour was no match for V's finely-honed skills. It has been coaxed into the semblance of an attractive head of hair, and regular applications of a vermilion dye have ensured that Lady Bracknell is unlikely to fade mousily into the background at the very occasional social gathering she has the stamina to attend.

However, it is not the loss of V's abilities Lady Bracknell mourns this evening so much as the loss of her company. She may be a traitor to her class, but Lady Bracknell finds herself unequal to the social demands placed upon her to treat all who work in shops and other service industries with icy superiority. When one's opportunities for social interaction are proscribed by one's physical frailness, it seems positively wasteful to squander them on such petty snobberies.

V is a feisty and intelligent woman after Lady Bracknell's own heart. Her ladyship's overriding memory of the times they have spent together will be one of helpless laughter. What lies ahead for V in Ireland is as yet unknown, but Lady Bracknell has no doubt that V will meet whatever comes her way with merriment and good humour. (And that she will spit in its eye should it have the temerity to attempt to break her spirit.)

Safe journey, V. They broke the mould after they made you.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Remarkable news!

Regular readers of these pages may recall that Lady Bracknell exhibits some degree of reliance when it comes to matters of etiquette on Mr Guy Pocock's slender but invaluable volume, "Brush Up Your Manners". (Mr Pocock's words of advice re two-piece suits of the amusing kind engendered much hilarity in a certain Ms Goldfish.)

Lady Bracknell received an e-mail this evening informing her that a new comment had been received from one of her readers. A charming Venezuelan gentleman has informed her ladyship that he is in possession of another of Mr Pocock's works, this one entitled, "Brush Up Your Reading".

Naturally, Lady Bracknell was immediately intrigued, and requested that her editor research further. Google having proved unusually disappointing, the editor was thrown back on that old faithful, Abe Books*. The UK version of which site currently has available a total of 255 books penned by Mr Pocock. (Most are, of course, multiple copies. Mr Pocock did not write 255 books.)

Lady Bracknell is somewhat disappointed to find that the "Brush Up Your..." series appears to extend to only three volumes, the third being, "Brush Up Your Own Language".

Several copies of all three books are currently available, although there will very probably be one fewer of both the "Reading" and "Your Own Language" volumes by the time any of Lady Bracknell's readers bend their own virtual steps thither.

But how thrilled Mr Pockock surely would have been to have learned that one of his books had travelled as far as Venezuela! Lady Bracknell makes no claims to understand how the interwebnet actually works, but only a very churlish individual would criticise its value when it brings news which, whilst perhaps not of any real importance in the great scheme of things, brings such pleasure to both the sender and the recipient.

*Should any readers be unfamiliar with Abe Books, Lady Bracknell can heartily recommend it as a source of second-hand books. Although the postage and packing charges render it an uneconomical method of obtaining copies of many books which are still in print, it comes very much into its own when one is searching for those which are out of print.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Blogging against disablism

Lady Bracknell's dear friend, the Goldfish, has suggested that May 1st should be devoted to blogging against disablism.

Her ladyship's editor has sought permission to write in her own voice on the day in question, a request which has been readily granted.

The Goldfish and her anonymous helpmeet have provided an image for the day:

Blogging Against Disablism Day
Lady Bracknell, whose own eyes grow somewhat dim with age, had thought the object in the centre of the image was a three pin electrical socket rendered in faux stone by a trendy interior designer. However, she is assured that it is actually a photograph of a wrecking ball hitting the side of a building.

Of course, one does not have to be disabled oneself in order to be opposed to discrimination against disabled people. (Lady Bracknell deplores homophobia, for example, although she is straight as a die herself.) Non-disabled persons who blog should not, therefore, feel that they are automatically excluded from the day. Lady Bracknell is sure that their contributions will be welcomed.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

"So almighty womanish..."

The Evil Virus having returned with a vengeance after two weeks' respite - although masquerading this time as a head cold rather than, as previously, having pretensions to influenza - Lady Bracknell finds herself once again confined to Bracknell Towers. Having taken some rather elderly decongestant tablets which, after a great deal of (literally) fevered searching, she eventually tracked down in a dusty corner of the bathroom, her ladyship finds herself beset by random memories of years gone by.

If her concentration will hold, she will endeavour to convey these to her readers in a manner which has some degree of logical stucture.

Some decades ago, when the young Lady Bracknell was reading for her degree at one of our country's most highly-respected seats of learning, Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd was one of the texts she studied for her optional "Themes of redemption in Literature" finals paper. Said classic text contains a description of Bathseba Everdene which has always stayed in her ladyship's memory.

Bathsheba is wholly infatuated with the outwardly charming Sergeant Troy but, knowing that his character is not generally respected, is tormented by her feelings towards him. She tells her servants that she hates him. When they agree with her that he is indeed hateful, she rails against them for judging the poor man so harshly. Ultimately, she threatens to dismiss her maid, Liddy, should the poor girl ever repeat the private conversation the two have had about the tortures of being a woman in love. Quickly repenting of this threat, she asks Liddy a question:

"I hope I am not a bold sort of maid -- mannish?"

Liddy replies:

"Oh no, not mannish; but so almighty womanish that 'tis getting on that way sometimes".

Lady Bracknell anticipates that it will come as no surprise to her regular readers - nor, indeed, to anyone who has read Mr Wilde's play - that she is constitutionally incapable of behaving in a demure, simpering and girlish manner. Nevertheless, she refuses to accept the universally held axiom that only such women who concern themselves with powder, paint and uncomfortably elegant shoes - and who subjugate their own wishes to those of whichever man is their current companion - are worthy of the epithet "feminine". There is, she believes, a great deal of more worth to celebrate about womankind than their ability to ensure that The Men always have clean underpants.

Forthright ladies with strong opinions - opinions which they do not shrink from expressing publicly and with no little vehemence - all risk being accused of behaving in an "unfeminine" manner. Lady Bracknell does not really give a fig whether she is considered unfeminine, but neither does she believe that her character is in any way masculine. She believes "almighty womanish" to be as good a description as any.

The above preamble being out of the way, Lady Bracknell wishes to record two occasions on which young ladies have spoken their minds without prevarication and in a manner which would probably not be considered as meeting the feminine ideal. Feminine or not, however, Lady Bracknell believes their responses to have been entirely female.

The first anecdote dates back once again to Lady Bracknell's days as an undergraduate. Every October, the new influx of students to the city in question would galvanise the local flashers into action.

The young gel of whom Lady Bracknell speaks was but eighteen years of age, and had vacated the bosom of her family less than a week prior to the event in question. Consider, then, the admirable presence of mind required to respond calmly, upon being presented somewhat forcefully with a dangling male appendage, with the words, "Yes, I see. Are you boasting or complaining?".

Some years after this, Lady Bracknell was in conversation with Panayiotta, a young Greek Cypriot woman of her acquaintance. It is, of course, true that Greek persons are generally more direct in their speech than are their British counterparts. Nevertheless, the following - to employ the modern idiom - "takes some beating".

In their teens and twenties, forceful women often find themselves doggedly pursued by otherwise passive young men who would willingly leap to do their every bidding. This sort of adoration can quickly become exceedingly tedious, particularly when what one wants is someone with whom one can interact on equal terms rather than a whipping boy.

Panayiotta, faced with one such individual who had proved himself impervious to subtle hints, eventually dismissed him with the words,

"Yes. I think I've reached the end of your personality now".

(Admirers of her ladyship - should any exist - who are uncertain of their capacity to fascinate her indefinitely, would be advised to bear in mind that it has long been her ambition to have the opportunity to repeat this inspired line herself.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"Let's talk about life!!"

In the halcyon days of Lady Bracknell's youth, a doctor's waiting room consisted of the rear reception room in what had once been a semi-detached house. The walls were unadorned. A motley collection of wooden chairs from old dining suites was arranged in formal rows to accommodate the patients. Patients who, if they talked at all, did so in low voices.

Crucially, it had never occurred to anybody that the tedium of waiting to see the doctor would need to be alleviated by means of piped lift music or - even worse - a television playing a looped recording of something calling itself, "The Life Channel".

Readers who are fortunate enough not to have regular occasion to visit their general practioner may be blessedly unfamiliar with this atrocity, and may therefore be in need of further explanation.

The Life Channel cobbles together (in a distinctly amateur fashion, somewhat reminiscent of the cinema advertisements for Indian restaurants which were so prevalent in the 1970s) a variety of short films intended to convey crucial information about health matters. The information contained in these films is so basic, however, that Lady Bracknell really cannot conceive that any of it could come as a revelation to any individual who has access either to newspapers or the television.

Actors in white coats gaze sincerely into the camera lens, and enumerate the benefits of drinking more water. It can be used, apparently, in treating obesity when drunk as an alternative to non-diet fizzy drinks. (Although it is beyond Lady Bracknell's conception that anyone could not be aware that such drinks contain vast quantities of sugar. Six teaspoons in the standard 330 ml can, in fact.)

Another in this series of films concentrates on a fitness club for senior citizens in Luton, of all places. A phone number and web address are provided, presumably so that any fit and elderly residents of south Liverpool who like what they see can immediately make plans to move to Luton and take advantage of the club's friendly atmosphere and table tennis equipment.

Moving on to the modern insistence that we must all eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day (the untimely death at the age of 98 of Lady Bracknell's much-loved paternal grandmother can undoubtedly be blamed on the fact that she never allowed any vegetable other than a potato to pass her lips), we are subjected to two unconscionably smug teenaged girls who are engaged in producing a vegetable stir fry. "We're putting the courgettes in first", they simper, "because they take the longest to cook".

(Lady Bracknell, unlike her grandmother, has never met a vegetable she didn't like. Nevertheless, she would draw the line at partaking in a "vegetable stir fry" in which the courgettes were added to the pan first, and the onions were thrown in at the last moment.)

Most mysterious of all is the film which advocates the taking of mud baths as a healthy inducement to the vital function of sweating. "Nowadays", coos the sultry female voiceover, "many of us don't sweat as much as we ought to". Given the sub-tropical temperature of the average public building, Lady Bracknell finds this hard to believe.

All these educational and informative snippets are frequently interspersed - at a considerably greater volume - by an advertisement for releasing the equity in one's home so that one can "see the grandkids right". Although quite how frittering away the value of one's largest single investment on holidays is calculated to increase the financial legacy one will eventually leave to one's "grandkids" is never explained.

Perhaps the purpose of this drivel is to persuade those who are forced to endure it never to be ill again. Or, if they really cannot help but be ill, at least to think twice before bothering their doctor. Certainly, given the choice, Lady Bracknell would never voluntarily sit through it again. Unfortunately, given that she must have her annual diabetic retinopathy screening on Wednesday, she must steel herself for further repetitions.

And it is not solely the intrusion of televisions which frays Lady Bracknell's nerves when she is waiting to see the doctor. Why is it that, in every surgery which she has ever frequented, the children's play area is stocked with appallingly noisy playthings?

Will any of Lady Bracknell's readers join her in her one-aristocrat campaign to ditch the Duplo in favour of the heavenly silence of Fuzzy Felt?

The Mighty Mr C hits the airwaves

Regular readers of Lady Bracknell's blog will recall that she has mentioned her mentor Mr C before.

The good news, both for those who know Mr C, and for those who have expressed a desire to know more about the gentleman in question, is that his dulcet tones may be heard (in the United Kingdom, at least) at eight o'clock this very evening on the Archive Hour programme on Radio 4. The programme will report on Scope's "Speaking for Ourselves" initiative, an oral history project recording the life experiences of persons over fifty years of age who have cerebral palsy.

Readers outside the United Kingdom, or who have more exciting things to do on their Saturday nights than to curl up in front of the radiogram with a mug of cocoa, will be able to utilise the helpful "listen again" feature on the BBC's website.

(Lady Bracknell is prepared to wager everything she owns that Mr C himself would not have been party to the description of the subject matter of the programme as being "heart-breaking and inspirational".)

Mr C has previously written his autobiography, "So Clear In My Mind", but the book has been out of print for many years. And Lady Bracknell rather suspects that her own scouring of second-hand sources over the last two or three years must all but have exhausted the available spare copies. However, she is assured by Mr C that not only a re-print, but also a second volume, are in the process of being prepared for the publishers. Her ladyship will report any breaking news in relation to their publication with alacrity in the pages of this blog.

Post script

It would appear that Mr C was wrongly advised by his sources. His dulcet tones were not heard. Notwithstanding this disappointing omission, the programme has much to recommend it, and Lady Bracknell would still encourage those of her readers who missed the "live" broadcast to access it online at some stage during the next seven days.

Friday, April 07, 2006

This week Lady Bracknell has been mostly...

... ricocheting off walls and mis-judging the height of kerbs.

There must be a considerable difference in strength between her new spectacle-prescription and the previous one.

Should things not improve soon, Lady Bracknell will have to contact the charming Mr Blankstone (which, if she is honest, would be no great hardship), and ask his advice.

The weather continues charming.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A short commercial break

Mr Rose having humbled himself to such a degree in his latest blog entry (and this from a gentleman who is not generally known for his humility), Lady Bracknell feels it incumbent upon her to bow to his wishes and provide a link to the BBC Ouch Disability Podcast.

Lady Bracknell rather suspects that the majority of those who visit her blog have come to its pages via the Ouch blogroll and will already have listened to said podcast. Should any of her readers prove the exception to this rule, however, she encourages them to both listen to the podcast (which, despite its bizarre name, can be enjoyed without one needing to be in possession of a trendy iPod device) and to use whatever means are at their disposal to further promote its existence.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Ladies and gentlemen who are physically enfeebled in some way often find themselves devising methods of undertaking mundane tasks which might be considered "ingenious" by persons who are capable of carrying out said tasks in the "normal" manner.

Lady Bracknell, for example, does not limit the use to which she puts her handsome walking sticks to that of supporting her in her perambulations. When reversed, the crook of such a stick can be fed through the handles of her ladyship's reticule, thus obviating the requirement to bend down in order to grasp them.

Bending being a particularly difficult and painful action for her ladyship, she remains barefoot when in Bracknell Towers (despite the cries of horror at such recklessness from the medical professionals who treat her for her diabetes) the better to utilise her toes in such tasks as switching electric sockets on and off, and placing small items of rubbish in waste paper baskets.

Unequal to the task of trimming the toe nails on her left foot by standard methods, Lady Bracknell sits on her left leg to do so. (This results in her having to trim her nails from underneath: a procedure which, it must be admitted, is fraught with some degree of risk.)

However, Lady Bracknell's own minor successes in adapting everyday tasks to suit her own physical limitations pale in comparison with the following.

Lady Bracknell's friend Mrs C has not been upstairs in her own house for many years. Her children, however, continue to occupy the upper rooms. Mrs C considers that one of her duties as a mother is to ensure that said children keep their rooms clean and tidy. And she cannot trust their word on this matter.

(Before continuing, readers - particularly those who have no problems with ascending and descending the stairs in their own homes - may wish to pause for a moment and cudgel their brains to come up with a solution to the quandary in which Mrs C finds herself.)

Displaying an admirable degree of cunning (or, if you will, "lateral thinking"), Mrs C demands that her children take photographs of their bedrooms on a weekly basis and bring them to her as proof of their labours. When first told of this scheme, Lady Bracknell asked Mrs C how she could be sure that she was not being shown the same photographs every week.

"Ah", said Mrs C, "It's my digital camera. And I delete the photographs as soon as I have seen them".